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The IUP Journal of Supply Chain Management :
Application of Activity Modeling to a ‘Dirt to Shirt’ Supply Chain
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The paper models and evaluates the activities and processes in an agricultural supply chain in the southeastern US. The study utilizes Engeström’s Activity Theory to model the planting, harvesting, transportation and ginning activities in a ‘Dirt to Shirt’ cotton supply chain to gain a better understanding of the material flows, information flows and interaction and collaboration between the supply chain partners. The models are used to analyze the supply chain activities and to pinpoint areas for improvement within the supply chain processes.

 
 
 

The US is the number one worldwide exporter of cotton, but only the third largest producer. Over 75% of the cotton produced in the US during the 2015/2016 season was shipped to other countries to be manufactured into finished products and then finished products are shipped back to the US to sell in retail outlets (Cotton USA, 2017). Seventeen states produce cotton in the US, and of those, North Carolina is the sixth largest producer and the fifth largest exporter of cotton (USDA/ERS, 2016). Today cotton exports contribute significantly to both the US and North Carolina economies, but cotton has not always been such a lucrative cash crop for North Carolina farmers (see Figure 1).

Cotton first became a leading cash crop for North Carolina in the 1800s after the invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. The cotton gin automated the cleaning of the harvested cotton increasing crop productivity significantly. With the increase in cotton crop yield, the demand for cotton processing increased, which resulted in the rise of textile mills in North Carolina. Bales of cotton were transported by railcar from the cotton gin to the textile mills where they were spun into spools of yarn for further processing. By 1920, North Carolina had become the center of the textile industry in the US and cotton production was leading the way (NC Business History-Cotton, 2007).

In the 1930s, the great depression combined with the boll weevil infestation, caused cotton to no longer be a cash crop in North Carolina, and subsequently farmers ceased growing cotton in many areas of the state. However, in the 1990s, cotton resurged as a cash crop due to the success of the Boll Weevil Eradication program in North Carolina, and a rise in the world market price of cotton creating export markets for North Carolina cotton (NC Business History-Cotton, 2007) (see Figure 1). This resurgence of cotton as a cash crop was the catalyst that motivated Thurman Burleson & Sons Farm to bring cotton back to the Piedmont region of North Carolina in 1991 (Burleson, 2013; and Cotton of the Carolinas, 2013).

Today cotton remains a leading cash crop for North Carolina farmers due to worldwide demand for exports, however, free trade agreements and global competition from developing countries have caused the relocation of the North Carolina textile industry to overseas production and manufacturing (NC Business History-Textiles, 2006; and Cotton USA, 2017) (see Figure 1). ‘Cotton of the Carolinas’ hopes their ‘Dirt to Shirt’ supply chain will begin to reverse the textile industry relocation trend and start bringing those textile industry jobs back to North Carolina (Henry, 2013).


Cotton of the Carolinas is a collaboration of farmers and manufacturers based in North Carolina that was created to develop a ‘Dirt to Shirt’ supply chain to create t-shirts from North Carolina grown cotton. The collaboration’s mission and purpose are based on three main objectives: (1) support of local economies; (2) low transportation footprint; and (3) complete product transparency. To achieve these objectives, Cotton of the Carolinas has strived to (1) create jobs for North Carolinians; (2) minimize the number of miles their product is transported from the cotton field to the printed/dyed shirt; and (3) track their product via maps, images and printed labels from dirt to shirt. Cotton of the Carolinas’ vision is to produce a totally ‘home-grown’ product and they are committed to growing, making and selling t-shirts that create and sustain jobs in the farming and textile industries in North Carolina (Cotton of the Carolinas, 2013).

This research was conducted by observing the work of farmers and the ginning operations of the Cotton of the Carolinas, ‘Dirt to Shirt’ supply chain. The paper analyzes the planting, harvesting, transportation and ginning activities in the supply chain to gain a better understanding of the material flow, information flow, interaction and collaboration between the supply chain partners (Burleson, 2013; Henry, 2013; and Morgan, 2013).

 
 
 

Supply Chain Management Journal, Application of Activity Modeling, The paper models and evaluates the activities, Processes in an agricultural supply chain, The study utilizes Engeström’s Activity Theory to model the planting, Harvesting, Transportation and ginning Activities